First in May


At our first meeting in May we were without Ian but were joined by Julie again, so 6 of us tackled the issues raised by ‘Mount Doom’. This led to a discussion heavily influenced by theological matters, with occasional references to World War One.

Laura began our discussion with a reference to the meeting of the 2 orc troops, and she wondered if such a simultaneous arrival at a crossroads has been witnessed by Tolkien during World War One. We all agreed that we didn’t think it would have ended in an orc-like brawl.

Laura also commented on the terrible level of Frodo and Sam’s fatigue.

Eileen thought their ability to keep up with the orc group showed extraordinary extra strength, counter-balancing their temptation to give up.

Laura compared this temptation to that of Christ in the desert, when he tempted by Satan, and we noted the Christian subtexts of much of this chapter.

This led Eileen to remark on the loss of religious language and its significance that had happened in the 1960s when liturgical Latin was replaced with vernacular translations. Julie then proposed that it was perhaps no coincidence that Tolkien’s work became so popular in that decade as the language of religion became ‘dumbed-down’ and lost the implicit mystery.

Carol commented: Sam’s carrying Frodo on his back ‘like a hobbit-child pig-a-back’ epitomises Sam’s destiny as a father and carer, what he was meant to become. And though I don’t espouse there’s overt Christianity in The Lord of the Rings or that Frodo’s Christ-like, if that’s the case then Sam’s Simon of Cyrene.

Chris moved us on to the War theme when he remarked that the second paragraph of the chapter could be a description of any WW1 battlefield with shell holes and other signs of destruction.

Laura thought there was a sense of waiting at this early point in the chapter, as if for the ‘big push’. She also noted that surprisingly Sauron does not sense that the Ring is in fact behind him.

Angela commented that this is because he is focussed on Aragorn.

Laura remarked that Sauron has put so much of himself into the Ring that he now doesn’t have complete power or vision.

Angela expanded her previous comment by observing that because Aragorn’s ancestor took the Ring, revenge is the focus now.

Chris noted that Sam continues to be very practical. Laura wondered if there was something else – perhaps his particular turn of mind was helping him.

Carol commented: “despite Sam realising ‘there could be no return’ – at last – he doesn’t just give up and stay where they are. and his thought goes back to words he spoke eons ago in the shire after their encounter with Gildor – he had a job to do and this is it, to help Frodo fulfil the quest and then die with him – if Ian still thinks this isn’t love then he’s crackers!!”

Eileen remarked that it might also be his father and family because they have provided his psychological ‘compass’ all the way through – particularly the Gaffer.

Laura added that it was horrible, by comparison, that Frodo can’t remember anything of his own past any longer.

Chris then questioned whether, for all his achievements, Sam was not too subservient at times? Laura and Angela both commented that this was a reflection of Edwardian style.

Chris went on to note that Sam, like Gollum, goes through ‘schizophrenic’ debate, as though talking to an alter ego. Carol commented on Sam’s debate with himself, arguing that “again it isn’t if you die but how you die. Sam is phenomena”l.

Angela added that Boromir also debates with himself.

Eileen observed that Gollum turns into a whimpering thing again, and Laura wondered if that was how he wheedled round his Grandmother.

Carol commented: “The journey is agonizing!”

Laura went on to remark that there are now lots of references to lembas and that their efficacy grows as they are eaten on their own. Julie observed that this seems to echo medieval accounts of saints who lived on the Eucharist, and in the story of Elijah an angel brings ‘waybread’ to strengthen him.

Staying with sustenance, Laura noted that the cistern along the road where Sam finds water echo the provision of water similarly along Roman roads.

I noted that as their situation deteriorates, Sam is said to know that ‘the word now lay with him’. Although this has a religious resonance, it also means that Sam alone now has the power to make things happen – his language has become ‘performative’.

Laura observed that meanwhile, outside the Black Gate the Captains of the West are in danger.

Carol commented:  “as if they don’t have enough to cope with, up pops Gollum again. At last Sam knows mercy, like Bilbo and Frodo before him. Good job he does too.

Chris remarked, however, that Frodo now changes in Sam’s perception in relation to Gollum, who is no longer pitied by Frodo, but at the level of the entire story, Gollum has to be with Frodo in order to destroy the Ring because, we are told, ‘all other powers were subdued’ in the Sammath Naur. So Gollum had to be part of the grand plan. Chris also argued that because Frodo’s dismembered finger is still in the Ring when it is destroyed – Frodo is still master of the Ring at that moment.

Carol commented: “some have called this Frodo’s moral failure, his refusal to relinquish the ring, but I’d like to see some of those critics go through what Frodo’s been through and even to get to the mountain, let alone part with the Ring”.

Chris went on to note that Gollum is not mentioned again after Mount Doom; and Julie commented that Judas is not mentioned again after the Crucifixion, and the debate continues as to whether his action was necessary.

Eileen remarked on the fact that Sam is always evesdropping, and this proves useful.

Carol commented on “Sauron’s tragic realisation”, but Laura ended our discussion on a humorous note when she remarked that the sudden change of direction by the Eye made her think of orcs cranking it round. More seriously, she commented that Sauron was a bad manager because as soon as his arrogance is shaken by his error all his captains and commanders cease to function.

It proved tricky to bring the meeting to a close because everyone was so engaged in discussing various matters, but we did agree that we would read ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘the Steward and the King’ for next time.


2 thoughts on “First in May

  1. I’ve been reading HoME for what seems like forever, and there is a definite strand of belief in the purifying nature of fire in the early Silmarillion passages. The nymph who drives the Sun chariot has to be bathed in fire, I dimly remember. So perhaps Gollum falling into the Cracks of Doom is finally saved through purgatorial fire (I hope so! Smeagol at any rate deserves to be saved!).

  2. I think you’re right about the sun nymph/maia (Arien) and Eileen brought up the matter of Puragtory, which reminded me of Hamlet’s Ghost complaining of the fires of Purgatory, but I didn’t remember the HoMe material. It would have contributed another layer to our consideration of what happened to Smeagol as Gollum. Thanks for the reminder!

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